WWE star Titus O'Neil shares eye-opening story: 'I was supposed to be dead or in jail by 16'

WWE superstar Titus O'Neil has a new book titled "There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Kid.” (AP)

By any measure, Thaddeus Bullard is a successful man.

A former standout football player at the University of Florida, vice president of his student body, a 10-year veteran of WWE, and a father of two boys, Thaddeus Jr. and Titus.

By all accounts — including his own — Bullard shouldn’t have become any of these things.

“I went from a kid who was supposed to be dead or in jail by 16 to being who I am today,” Bullard told Yahoo Sports. “That only happened because of a conversation when I was 12 years old. It was through the work that me and the people around me did to ensure I stayed on a certain path.”

Bullard — better known as WWE superstar Titus O’Neil — doesn’t shy away from his harsh upbringing in his new book, “There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Kid.” In the first few eye-opening chapters, Bullard gives a glimpse into the difficult reality he had to face on a daily basis.

Born to a 12-year-old mother who was raped at age 11, Bullard describes growing up fatherless, in poverty, surrounded by drugs and violence, and how he let his circumstances dictate his behavior as a young child.

“I didn’t feel comfortable with sharing my story until my junior or senior year in college,” Bullard said. “For years I wasn’t very open about how I was conceived. This is my story, this is how I am utilizing my story, to send this message. There are kids who are in bad situations, make bad decisions and have bad outcomes, but if you take those same exact kids, put them around good people in a good environment, they’ll have a better chance to succeed.”

For Bullard, a conversation that happened at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch at 12 years old hit home. A simple comment from then-director Pat Monogue, changed his life forever.

“I always feel like the ages between 11 and 14 are the most impressionable in a young adult’s life and we have the opportunity to reshape some of thinking and people’s paths, getting them to think differently and act differently,” Bullard said. “Getting kids this book is important but it’s also important for any educator, parent, mentor, coach.”

Bullard, who has held multiple championships in WWE, is among the most charitable stars in the company. Working with schools and students in his community, combined with the current state of affairs both globally and at home, Bullard recognized that there was a need to tell his story on a larger scale.

“What inspired me is just looking at the way things are going in the world and more importantly in our country,” Bullard said. “I saw so many parallels in the schools that I was serving, with the stories of kids that were in homeless situations, drug-infested situations, who weren’t expected to do much. I had the opportunity to bless a lot of people to get them out of that situation. I feel like this book is an extension of the work I’ve been doing and the work of others who have helped me get into this situation.”

Growing up having witnessed such events, Bullard learned valuable lessons about the man he’d become both inside and out of WWE. Bullard has managed to turn certain angles (“Titus Worldwide”) and gaffes (his accidental slip and fall at the “Greatest Royal Rumble”) into moments fans have been able to get behind.

“I learned early on not to take myself too seriously,” Bullard said. “I take my life seriously and my ability to live a healthy life seriously, but at the end of the day, people trip or fall and stumble all of the time. I guarantee you millions of people stubbed their toe this morning and no one knows about it. Me, I make my mistakes on the largest stage in the world. You use it as a teachable moment and that’s something I’ve done in my entire life.”

Bullard also learned about the type of parent he would become. Having dealt with harsh surroundings and bullying growing up — hard to believe considering Bullard’s 6-foot-6, 270-pound build as an adult — the WWE star doesn’t hide his two children from any of life’s tough situations.

“I try to live the example that I want them to follow,” Bullard said. “Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not, but at the end of the day, my biggest fear is embarrassing my kids in any way. I don’t shelter them from anything because the world is a diverse place, for the good and the bad. They are smart enough kids and responsible enough kids that they can make great decisions.

“If they don’t, they feel comfortable enough to come and talk to me about it because they know I won’t fly off the deep end. The only reason I would ever do that is if I found out my kids were ever disrespectful to anybody, bullied anybody’s kids or picked on those who can’t fend for themselves. Then I’d fight them like grown men.”

Bullard isn’t currently slated to have a match at SummerSlam — WWE’s second-biggest show of the year — but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a part of the weekend in Toronto. The 42-year-old has several meet and greet events, book signings and charitable endeavors surrounding the weekend.

Regardless of if he gets his moment in the ring, Bullard’s presence will be felt.

“I look forward to every aspect of my job,” Bullard said. “Whether it’s performing in the ring, doing a “Make A Wish,” going to Boys and Girls Club, the “Be A Star” rally, it’s all the same to me. I enjoy all of it because it gives me an opportunity to contribute to our company and give back to our society.”

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